Editorial: Union Blues

Even after Detroit’s bankruptcy, even after Chicago’s Democratic leaders have expressed grave concerns about public employee pensions and benefits, New York’s union bosses remain stuck in the 1960s, when times were fat—and so were municipal labor contracts.

The Municipal Labor Committee, which represents several public employee unions, successfully filed suit against the city to block Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to try to find cheaper health insurance plans for New York City’s active and retired work force. The committee seized on technicalities to argue that the city has engaged in a “flawed process” of achieving cost savings.

The city’s unions have a choice to make: They can either partner with City Hall in achieving real pension and benefit reforms. Or they can remain on the outside and have change imposed upon them. Either way, change will happen because it must. When Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, the cost of providing health insurance for city workers and retirees was just more than $3 billion. Now it’s $6.3 billion. And it’s only going to get more expensive in the future.

Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway IV correctly noted that the labor committee’s lawsuit shows that it has “no intention of participating in this process productively.” That’s a tragedy for all concerned, including unionized workers who would benefit from a reasonable compromise rather than an imposed solution.

A generation ago, union leaders worked with City Hall to avoid bankruptcy. While the city is in better shape today, the cost of pensions and benefits could bring a return of the bad old days of the 1970s. It’s clear that today’s union leaders see nothing except their own interests, and that has the makings of a tragedy.